The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, has said that the free movement of labour will be maintained among top bankers, and other highly skilled workers in financial services. He is certainly not wrong, but there are even greater priorities.
Is it possible to be pro-immigration but anti EU? The answer to that is yes, if you argue that the EU, by allowing free movement of labour within the region, makes it politically much harder to allow access to the UK from people who are citizens of non-EU countries. It is just that the political motivation of many of those who voted Brexit was not in any way pro-immigration. And despite the above argument, it is quite hard to make the case that the Brexit vote is good for immigration.
Maybe, a compromise, one that the anti-immigration lobby will accept, is to allow free movement of people who can fulfil certain needs of the UK economy.
Speaking to the House of Lords, Philip Hammond said that immigration controls should be used “in a sensible way [to] facilitate movement of highly skilled people between financial institutions and businesses.”
Some are applying short-hand to Mr Hammond’s words and say that this mean that he wants free movement of highly paid bankers.
It’s odd, because if there is one phrase that really gets the goat of those socially disenfranchised people who voted Brexit it is “highly paid bankers.”
It is not that Mr Hammond is wrong – he is surely right, but sometimes you need to pick your fights, and it is more important to win some fights than others.
Before the EU referendum, the UK was seeing a burgeoning revolution in technology led entrepreneurism – start-ups trying to bring new technology to the world. These start-ups are tomorrow’s corporate giants. They bring hope to the UK economy and introduce the possibility that the economy can continue to fight above its weight, lurking near the top of the premier league of economies.
But few people are more entrepreneurial than immigrants – it is their nature, the very act of uprooting yourself and moving to another country encapsulates entrepreneurial spirit. And while it is the case that the UK has seen this massive surge in entrepreneurial activity in recent years, if you talk to the UK based entrepreneurs, people who will often turn out to be tomorrow’s captains of industrial giants, and you will hear English spoken fluently, but often with a foreign accent.
Many of these entrepreneurs are themselves bankers, they are surely highly skilled, and Mr Hammond’s plan won’t be inconsistent with the UK’s needs, but neither will it be optimal.
The UK needs entrepreneurs, and it needs technologists, engineers and researchers who can realise the potential of technology.
And in the UK, there is a shortage of engineers, of people who can code – this shortage may yet undermine, even halt, the entrepreneurial revolution. Without immigration, without a flow of labour that is not hampered by complex rules, and which creates uncertainty as to how long people with much needed talent can stay in this country, the UK economy may find itself relegated from the economic premier league.